Tiny Culprits of a Massive Health Risk

By Meghan Rice         

             Microplastics, including dangerous microbeads and synthetic fabric fibers are some of the most dangerous plastics that get into the ocean and end up on our dinner plates.  Marine animals, which also suffer health problems including death, digest these materials in the water and through their consumption, we run the risk of serious health issues ourselves. 

            Microplastics are pieces of plastic that measure up to 5mm in diameter.  They get released into the environment when they are not properly processed in recycling and waste plants.  One of the toxins in plastic, nonylphenol, is an endocrine disruptor and has been shown to lead to endometriosis and breast cancer.  These chemicals are easily transferable to marine life, since they are often oil based, and so are difficult to get rid of.  Think of petroleum, a key component of plastic, which is 100% oil.

            An interesting fact is that microplastics can absorb other chemicals polluting the ocean.  PCBs, toxic carcinogenic industrial chemicals, latch on to microplastics, as well as PBDEs, which can lead to thyroid problems in humans.

            A specific example of microplastics, microbeads, are found in toothpaste and facial scrubs, to name a few sources.  The US has already banned microbeads because of their dangerous effects on humans when they are consumed through marine animals.  The ban will take effect in July, 2017.  Lobsters, mussels, and oysters are among the top marine species that feed on microbeads and are consumed by humans.

            Another even more dangerous form of microplastic pollution in the ocean is microfibers from synthetic fabrics.  These fibers are alarmingly poisonous to the food chain in the ocean.  Since they are small, they can be easily consumed by marine life.  Imagine the amount of microfibers that come off of a synthetic fleece jacket, about 1.7 grams after a wash, to be precise.  Jackets that are older will also give off a lot of fiber when washed.

            Overall, it is worse to break down plastic into smaller pieces than to do nothing at all.  The effects of microplastics are far-reaching and poison both marine life and us.  The entire food chain is affected.  Please remember that what we allow to get into the water is consumed by marine life, which digest plastic and die of starvation thinking they’re full, and us!  Further, chemicals in the water are poisonous to everyone, and there is no other way to stop them from ending up on our dinner plates than to take action against plastic pollution in the ocean.